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Where Do We Begin?

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As the new year begins, the near-universal feeling is eagerness to leave 2020 and its challenges far behind us. In many ways, change is indeed in the air. In the United States, a new federal government administration. Globally, hope for multiple vaccines to protect against COVID-19.

At the same time, many of the hardest parts of the past year simply cannot be left behind. The eyes of many have been unequivocally opened to the current realities of racial inequity and ideological divide. Vast economic disparities have further expanded. Sexual violence, child marriage, and domestic abuse have been exacerbated by lockdowns. To name just a few.

But from challenge, comes hope and opportunity, exemplified by this month’s blogger, Tabitha Mpamira, founder of EDJA.

So with Tabitha’s reminder that change must start within each of us as an inspiration, let’s not turn away from the past year without bringing along the lessons we’ve learned and the doors that have been opened to create hope and opportunities for meaningful, lasting change in the coming year and beyond. – Katinka Hakuta, Grants Manager

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written and rewritten this piece. Why? Well, first, it’s pretty intimidating to follow Emily, Lisa, and the other great contributors to this platform. But even more daunting is attempting to capture the complexity and mixture of emotions evoked in all of us after all the human misery we experienced in 2020. And 2021 – not off to a great start! Already it feels like a trailer to the movie we’ve just seen. (“Can I please cancel my subscription?” friends are joking). So how does one choose just one area to lament, when each day another disruptive, dangerous, or shameful ism comes from our politicians, our communities, and the media – even from some of our own family members?

If you know anything about my work, you’d probably assume that I’d write about the “silent pandemic” – sexual and gender-based violence, that is – and normally you’d be right. That indeed has been my main cause. But after watching the Capitol of the most powerful country in the world invaded and desecrated by its own citizens, filled with unfounded hate and violent anger, and seeing the Leader of the Free World incite that behavior, I have to step back and wonder about the impact of all this trauma on our individual and collective psyches – as activists, who care about making this world better than we found it.

The one salient question I now hear most from friends and colleagues, whether it’s white friends who didn’t know how to support the black community during the Black Lives Matter protests, or male friends who want to stand up for women and the #MeToo movement; or from those appalled about the rise of sexual and domestic abuse of women and girls during lockdown; or from straight people wondering how they can fight alongside the LGBTQ community for equality, or help immigrant children in cages is: “Where do we begin?”

My simple answer for these difficult times is: Start within.

According to life coach and author Joi Lewis. “Tuning in ultimately keeps us from tuning out.” And as my mother used to say, when you point your finger at someone else, note that the rest of your fingers are pointing back at yourself. (I knew better than to talk back to my mom, but my kids have argued that the thumb should not be included in her statement.) Never mind, her point was this: We simply have to assume responsibility and our own accountability about whatever needs to be done before pointing at others. If we want more peace in our country, our homes, the world, we must start by cultivating peace within. If we are looking for more empathy and love around us, it has to begin with us. We want to end poverty? Start by sharing what we have. I think you get the point. Turning inward about our purpose, drive, intentions, needs and responsibilities creates the space and opportunities to then attend to the direction that finger was pointing.

We’ve all heard flight attendants’ Oxygen Mask Rule: “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area; place the mask over your nose and mouth before assisting others.” Although it may sound counterintuitive, there’s a reason that the rule now applies to those of us whose lives center around the call to fight social injustices. No one wins when we, ourselves, aren’t whole.

I spent the first part of my career putting masks on everyone else, from women rape survivors of the Rwandan genocide to suicidal patients at a mental health center in my home town of Lansing. But in 2015, it took young assault survivors in rural Uganda to show me that I was low on oxygen. First, a nine year-old told me her story of being raped, and attending class the next day as if nothing had happened because her family couldn’t afford the hospital fee, or pay police the $12 required to make an arrest. Then a grandmother brought me her five year-old who had been raped by her grandfather; she couldn’t afford the $5 that would have saved the child from AIDS. Wake-up call! I realized then that I had to mask-up if I were ever to make lasting change in that community. Although I had served as a mental health therapist dealing with trauma every day for six years, I had so intellectualized my work that I totally denied my own sexual assault as an 11 year-old. Finally forced to tune in, I realized that the survivor within me also needed an advocate. Therapy Read More

Disrupting White Supremacy in International Development: 5 Lessons from our Partners

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As 2020 comes to an end, we remain deeply grateful for our partners and even more committed to a relational, trust-based approach at Imago Dei Fund. Over the past few months, we recognized a pervasive tension among our US-based, internationally facing partner organizations: confronting the legacy of colonialism and white supremacy in international development as US 501c3s. In response to our partners’ shared experiences, we convened a group to create a peer-to-peer space to engage in critical dialogue and break down silos. We hope that our partners’ reflections and recommendations below will inspire further discussion, and ways to work toward a shared vision of collaboration and equity across sectors. – Leah Hong, Program Partner

For many of us, the end of the year is a time to turn inward and synthesize the past twelve months’ lessons and experiences. With all of the changes and challenges 2020 has brought, reflection is even more necessary. As nonprofit organizations, we faced many hard lessons this year: How to pivot to new ways of working, how to fill budgets in an unstable financial climate, and how to adapt to meet shifting needs with even fewer resources and more constraints in the wake of a global pandemic. Standing here today, we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish – we’re resilient, adaptive and agile, and these lessons have made us stronger and even better able to fulfill our missions.

However, with deep and earnest reflection, we also know there are lessons and hard truths our sector and society still must face. Our four organizations – RefuSHE, Educate!, Spark Microgrants, and Village Enterprise  – work internationally, but are registered in the United States as 501c3s, and receive a large portion of the funding to carry out our work from US-based donors and philanthropy. Importantly, all of our organizations were also founded by “Westerners” (non-local staff from the Global North), and (at least initially) with white US-based staff in top-level leadership positions. As we watched and participated in the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US this year, we had to make sense of our unique position straddling contexts and ask ourselves hard questions. What role do we – as Westerners, particularly those of us who are white – play in perpetuating and upholding white supremacy in international development?

The Spark Uganda team

We are thankful to our partners at the Imago Dei Fund who do the work and encourage this kind of honest, critical reflection, and who held space for us to discuss this question. Immediately, we realized that it was essential to define what we were really talking about. Were we talking about the responsibilities that US 501c3s have to promote racial equity within their organizations? Issues of discrimination in hiring and compensation, organizational culture issues, and lack of representation? Or were we talking about the unique responsibility that internationally-focused 501c3s have for disrupting white supremacy in the international development space? Feeling that the former is extensively covered, we turned our focus to the latter, where it’s our observation that less is written and there’s more to unpack. We also feel this is where our organizations can offer unique value and perspective, as we have all been on a journey wrestling with these contradictions.

We admittedly all still have much to learn and much work to do. However, our shared experiences showed five critical strategies for US 501c3 international development organizations aiming to disrupt white supremacy in the sector:

1. Get honest and specific with your language

One of the first things we realized in our conversation was that we needed to agree on the terms we were using and what they meant. Ambiguity prevents honest dialogue and makes accountability impossible. We’ve observed far too many toothless statements of solidarity this year, and seen how attempts to say the “right” thing prevent anything meaningful from being said at all. That’s why a foundational first step for any organization aiming to examine its complicity in white supremacy is to find the most honest, accurate language to talk about it. For the purpose of this discussion, we used Challenging White Supremacy Workshop’s definition of white supremacy, as it encompasses a global perspective: a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, countries, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, to defend a system of wealth, power, and privilege.

Our group also discussed that antiracism – in our case – was a term more relevant to the US. We understand antiracism to refer to the active dismantling of white supremacy and its structures, and to recognize the particular history and harm of racist systems, policies, and biases in the US that have placed BIPOC communities at an inequitable position in our country. Decolonization seemed to fit this conversation better – efforts to reverse or remedy the historically extractive and oppressive practices and structures of colonialism within the global context. Upon further discussion, we realized perhaps that term didn’t go far enough. Jailan Adly at RefuSHE suggested a new term: de-imperialism. De-imperialism would encompass decolonization and refer to modern-day economic imperialism that continues to perpetuate unequal power structures and oppression across the globe. Without a doubt, these terms (and the reality they attempt to describe) are deeply interconnected, but getting specific can be a great starting point for a more in-depth conversation.

Terms and definitions might vary from organization to organization – the important thing is that the team aligns around shared meanings. It’s also important to decide Read More

Kiswahili Translation of the Patriarchy Explainer Video!

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The Girl Child and her Long Walk to Freedom project is pleased to announce the launch of the Kiswahili translation of the patriarchy explainer video!

Patriarchy in My First Language – Mfumo dume

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Pamela Shao lives in Tanzania and currently works for UNICEF as the Chief of Field Office in Mbeya, a city located in the Southern Highlands regions of Tanzania. She has a long career path in the field of humanitarian relief and development, formerly working for World Vision, UNHCR, and the World Food Programme. We met Pamela in 2015 on a vision trip with World Vision that she co-led and were so impressed by her nuanced and wise culturally sensitive approach to social change. This past year, she participated as an advisor in the production of an animated “explainer” video called Understanding Our History of Patriarchy which traces the broad arc of the history of our world’s oldest oppression which over many centuries became encoded into tradition and still lives on in our world today. Soon after the video was released, Pamela proposed the idea of translating the video into Kiswahili to contextualize and extend the reach of the video.

A Game-Changing New Chapter for RefuSHE

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RefuSHE is excited to announce that Geoffrey Thige, RefuSHE’s Executive Director in Kenya, will become the Chief Executive Officer of RefuSHE starting January 2021! Read more about the significance of this transition in RefuSHE’s latest blog post.

Do Justly – An Honest Conversation on Nov 16th

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Join us for an honest conversation on how to think about racial, cultural, and operational dynamics when giving to non-profit organizations.

“Stepping out of the busyness, stopping our endless pursuit of getting somewhere else, is perhaps the most beautiful offering we can make to our spirit.”
Tara Brach